Thursday, November 3, 2011

Our African Journey: Days 5-7,River Bend Lodge and Addo Elephant National Park

Wednesday, October 19.  When we disembarked at Port Elizabeth, we were met by the O.E. representative who drove us swiftly to the River Bend Lodge, in time for us to check in, meet the lodge’s staff, and almost immediately go out on our first game drive.  The lodge is located in the Nyathi Section  of the Addo Elephant National Park which is not open to the public, providing us and the lodge’s dozen or so other guests with the private use of 14,000 hectares of land.  Since the lodge maintains just four open vehicles for game drives (each seating no more than eight persons including the guide), and caters to just a small number of guests, that meant that when we were out on a drive in their private section of the park, we often were the only humans there.  (Of course, when we visited other sections of the park, we often did encounter other tourists as well.)  Anyway, as we entered the lodge’s grounds, and even before checking in, let alone embarking on our first game drive, we were treated to the sight of herds of zebras, ostriches and impala in the meadows just off the road.  An auspicious beginning to our stay at River Bend.
Zebras at River Bend
We met the River Bend’s key staff, including Joe Pringle, the lodge’s Senior Guide, who would be our field guide and host for the duration of our stay, and we couldn’t have been more fortunate in having drawn him as our guide.  He was charming, intelligent, knowledgeable and passionate about his profession and we forgive him for having awakened us at 5 or 5:30 AM each day we were at River Bend in order to maximize our chances or early morning game sightings.  After being shown to our lodgings, a beautifully appointed private cottage on a lovely flowery path, we had a quick but excellent lunch in the lodge’s dining room.  I had what the lodge called its “Gourmet Burger,” a hamburger made with kudu meat (slightly drier and somewhat gamier than beef but very tasty), topped with sautéed mushrooms and camembert cheese.  What’s not to like about that?  And shortly after lunch, we joined Joe and two other guests for our first game drive.
On the path to our cottage at River Bend
At the time we were a bit impressed – we saw zebras, kudus, ostriches, giraffes, elephants, baboons and more – but in hindsight, and now being a bit blasé about it all, that first drive wasn’t all that impressive.  Certainly not in comparison to what we would get to see over the remainder of our stay at River Bend and, subsequently, at Chobe Chilwero in Botswana.  But I’ll get to all that later.
Giraffes at River Bend
That first drive lasted from about 4 PM to 7 PM, ending with a choice of tea, coffee, beer, wine or gin and tonics in the bush, after which we returned to the lodge for what turned out to be wonderful dinner.  And then early to bed.  We knew we’d be getting up at 5 AM the next morning and needed our rest.

Thursday, October 20.  We got our wake-up call at 5 AM but not by telephone.  Rather, there was a knock at the door and there was Joe, himself, with a tray of coffee and muffins.  We dressed quickly and were seated in the lodge’s open game drive vehicle at 5:30 AM.  Joe was there too, of course, and so was the couple with whom we’d been on the previous evening’s game drive.  And they were quite excited to tell us that they’d spotted a black rhino from the verandah of their cottage just moments before.

Now a black rhino is something special: it is an endangered species with only about 4,000 left in the world.  Moreover, the rhinoceros is one of the “Big Five” game species that visitors to Africa hope to see (the other four being the elephant, lion, leopard and buffalo).  So our immediate goal was to track down and sight that black rhino - and so we did!  A great start to the day.

A black rhino at River Bend

During the course of the remainder of that morning’s drive, we also saw a pride of lions, innumerable elephants and a herd of buffalo, three of the other four “Big Five” species.  So on our very first morning drive, we saw four of the “Big Five” (not to mention any number of more minor game species).  All but the leopard - but Joe was pretty confident we’d get to see a leopard too, eventually.  Not bad for our first morning drive.
Lions at River Bend
We returned to the lodge in late morning, in time for breakfast and a nap.  Lunch and then another game drive at 4 PM.  More elephants, giraffes, buffalo, et al.  But no leopard.  Drinks and snacks in the bush at the end of the drive.  Back to the lodge and another outstanding dinner.  And early to bed.
An impasse with an elephant at River Bend
Friday, October 21.  Joe let us sleep a half hour later this morning and didn’t awaken us in his inimitable fashion with coffee and muffins until 5:30 AM.  But then we were in the game vehicle at 6 AM and off again.  Lots more animals – but still no leopard.  Uh oh, maybe we wouldn’t get to see a leopard after all.  We’d have just one more chance at that evening’s game drive since we were scheduled to be off to our next destination the following morning.
African buffalo and their symbiotic friends, the egrets
And so back to the lodge for lunch and another afternoon nap before embarking on our last River Bend game drive at 4 PM.  And, sad to say, lots of animals – but still no leopard.  Joe assured us that we’d see one at the Chobe Chilwero Lodge in Botswana (where we’d be going next) but it still looked more and more as if we might come up one species short.

Ostriches guarding a nest at River Bend
When we returned to the lodge around 7 PM and went to our cottage to freshen up before dinner, we were in for a big surprise.  The staff of the lodge had been told that our trip was in celebration of our 50th Wedding Anniversary and they scattered rose petals and tea candles all around our room, including a large number in the shape of a heart on the bed, to create a “romantic” atmosphere.  A bit hokey perhaps, but a delightful gesture nonetheless.
Our surprise 50th Wedding Anniversary bed covered with rose petals at River Bend...
And it didn’t end there.  When we went to the dining room for dinner, we were immediately escorted out to a private table in a separate room set up just for us and waited on in the most elegant fashion by Joe, himself.  A wonderful culmination to our stay at River Bend.
...and our surprise 50th Wedding Anniversary Dinner at River Bend!
More to come tomorrow.   


  1. It is really funny that one can be blase at times
    about seeing these animals. It is really only later that you realize what you saw and how close. That elephant shot reminded me of the Herd of elephants we saw when we went to our campsite in Ngorongoro crater. The truck stopped and six large females and a few babies walked by us at 15 feet and we were looking eye to eye. The amazing thing was there was hardly any sound as they passed except for a few loud exhalations from a few elephants. We didn't make a sound save for some shutters closing.Can't wait for more..

  2. Howdy! Do you own any journalism skills or this is just a completely natural talent of yours? Can't wait to hear from you.